We decided to go the easy way only once on our trip across Patagonia. That is, taking a flight to save about 30 hours of riding on a bus between Pucón and Puerto Natales in the very far South of Chile. And we didn’t regret it.

We took a pretty cheap Sky flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost airport. We booked the flight through the agency ContactChile, because the cheapest rates on the flight were only available to people with a Chilean bank account or credit card, while non-locals (who didn’t use the agency) were charged three times the price.

From Punta Arenas, we took the bus to the town of Puerto Natales, the basis for excursions to the Torres del Paine National Park. The moment we stepped into our hostel Yagan House, we fell in love with it. (Thanks for the tip, Along Dusty Roads!) Not only was there a wonderful scent in the air, it was also very cosy, had a large kitchen, an almost infinite number of super-clean bathrooms, two dogs and a no-shoes policy in the bedroom area—great idea.

On Easter Sunday, we did the strenuous hike to the emblematic Torres del Paine, the Chilean doppelgängers of Italy’s Drei Zinnen. It was four hours up, the last stretch on a very steep rocky slope with brutal wind. For most of the hike, the Torres del Paine towers were out of sight, so it was a great reward to suddenly see them appear majestically in front of us in the end.

Bam bam ba di bam.Bam bam ba di bam.

Keeping up traditions, we brought hard-boiled eggs to celebrate the battle of Ostereierpecken at the foot of the Torres. In case you wonder, Jan won. Of course.

Easter bunny didn’t forget us in Patagonia, by the way. He got not one, but two chocolate eggs for each of us!

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March 24–25, 2016

South America, Chile, Pucón

Pucón, in Chile’s Lake district, comes pretty close to what an Austrian ski resort looks like—just without winter sports facilities, and with a snow-topped volcano.

Our hostel host over-ambitiously gave us an enthusiastic pep talk about what to do in Pucón. His top recommendations: volcano hike, hydrospeed boating, horseback riding. Our choice: the “hangover” hike to a nearby waterfall, because (a) the volcano tours were fully booked (and later got cancelled anyway), (b) we preferred not get soaking wet in cold water, and (c) we’re not into horses. It seemed that our host was somewhat disappointed, but then again, we had nothing to prove. And feeling knocked out after a night bus ride counts as a hangover, so the waterfall hike was perfectly appropriate for us. On our way back, we got a ride by a local on his pick-up, which helped us get back to our hostel just before Happy Hour ended.

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Valparaíso—or just “Valpo”—totally lives up to its denomination: It’s a big jewel box made up of colorful small houses, a labyrinth of streets and street art everywhere you look. If you don’t want your house’s walls to be sprayed with tags or graffiti, your best option is to ask an artist to create a mural. That’s one of the things we learned on the excellent free walking tour offered by Tours for Tips that we did (twice).

We really fell in love with Valparaíso. We took the O-bus (recycled buses from Switzerland) and funiculars like the locals, climbed a lot of stairs, counted the containers that were loaded and unloaded from large freight ships from the balcony of our AirBnB (appropriately decorated in marine style through and through), and got to enjoy the first of many Pisco Sours, Chile’s delicious national drink.

Here, we were joined by Simone’s childhood friend/sister-in-mind Ulla (hola, Ulla!) who would travel with us for four weeks down to Patagonia and then back to BA.

One afternoon, we also checked out the beach of nearby Viña del Mar. #ChillingInChile

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March 14–17, 2016

South America, Argentina, Mendoza

A night bus’ ride away from Córdoba lies Mendoza, the heart of Argentina’s wine industry. Our days there we mostly dedicated to work, but we also did a bike trip to the vineyards of the nearby wine town of Maipú.

¡Hola, Chile!

The bus ride over the Andes to Chile was also very scenic, especially from the front row (office) of the double-decker bus. We passed through (empty, off-season) ski resorts and even caught a glimpse of the Aconcagua, the highest peak outside of Asia.

Don’t even try to bring fruits or vegetables (let alone meat) into Chile—one guy on our bus tried and it wasn’t pretty.

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March 10–13, 2016

South America, Argentina, Córdoba

After our week in the rural Northwest of Argentina, Córdoba felt buzzling, loud and trafficky. Still, we liked it for its energy and original bars thanks to its large student population.

Despite knowing the importance of Córdoba for Austrian soccer, we did not go on a pilgrimage to the city’s stadium, but rather strolled through the park and rented a pedal boat.

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After we made our way back from the remote pueblecito Iruya, we drove up to a viewpoint overlooking Hornocal, the “Hill of Fourteen Colors”.

We continued to Tilcara where we spent the next two nights in the beautiful Las Terrazas hotel.

Close-by is Pucará, the partially reconstructed ruins of a pre-Inca settlement that wonderfully overlooks the valley from its 2,500 m above sea level.

Contrary to Iruya, Tilcara proved to be far more lively, larger and welcoming. It felt like an alternative mountain village with distinct ethnic touch. Graphic Andean-style table runners, lama-fur covered chairs and colorful decorations were cheering at us from almost every single bar, comedor or café. And yet, it’s a functional, authentic indigenous community.

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March 5–6, 2016

South America, Argentina, Iruya

Multiple times, people (among them, the rental car clerk) warned us from taking our rental car to Iruya, a small indigineous town nested against the mountainside at an elevation of 2,780 m. Iruya is accessible only via a 50 km-long unpaved dirt road that, at several points, crosses small rivers.

Despite our determination to go there (if not at least to see how far we could make it in the worst case), once we got to the street sign that indicated to go off-road, we were a bit unsure whether or not we should give it a try. What if the road was muddy and we got stuck? There was not much time for deliberating, though. Soon, the exact same car model stopped next to us and after a brief chat (with, as turned out later, two Austrians from Vorarlberg) we followed their lead and took on the road. It was indeed 50 very bumpy kilometers with several creek traverses, but rewarded with amazing views of the mountains and valleys we crossed. And we also had a tête-à-tête with a very interested donkey mum and her kid. We also tried to boost our Karma by picking up backpackers from Chile on the way.

Close to the sky, far from everything

Iruya is not exactly what you would call a charming alpine town. You can see and feel that life’s rough up there given the location and climate.

Although Iruya is popular with tourists, the town doesn’t seem to alter itself just for a few pesos or a bit of attention. Signs all over the town remind tourists to be respectful, not to take photos of the locals and to consult immediately the tourist office “to avoid accidents” (?).

The height and the sun took their toll on us and we went to bed early—hoping that it wouldn’t rain so we would be able to take the road back to the Quebrada de Humahuaca valley. The first drops went down at around 10:30pm…

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Going to the Argentina’s Northwest region bordering Bolivia and Chile was pretty much a last-minute decision. We had initially planned on traveling straight to Córdoba and Mendoza from Iguazú and from there on to Chile. But a fellow BA-based Wolframian highly recommended going to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy at the onset of the Andes.

While having traveled on some surprisingly comfortable night buses so far, we wanted some greater flexibility and took a rental car for our week-long trip starting and ending in Salta.

Our first stop after half a day in Salta—spent at the main square’s Café del Regidor with breakfast, limonadas and our laptops—we headed North to Purmamarca in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, a narrow mountain valley that was also declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Driving through the valley, pictures of our visits to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon and Death Valley at the beginning of our trip came to our minds. Still it’s distinctly different, and landscape here has so many different features, it’s hard to describe them. Sometimes, it looks like desert, then again like a juicy green meadow, alternating with sparse vegetation and wide empty riverbeds full of pebbles and rocks. Also, we never expected to see so many cactuses!

Salinas Grandes

After an ascent to over 4,000 m on a road that climbed in picturesque meanders up and down the mountains, we got to the Salinas Grandes: large salt flats, located at a remarkable 3,450 m above sea level. Google Maps displays them like actual lakes (colored blue), but in fact the lakes’ whole surface is a thick white layer of crusted salt. Every now and then, shallow pools are cut out of the salt, whose water is surprisingyl cold and so salty that the skin on our hands dried out after touching it.

Speaking of skin: We ignored both the altitude and the fact that the white surface reflects sunlight and left with a major sunburn. Ouch!

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Iguazú Falls

February 28—March 1, 2016

South America, Argentina, Iguazú Falls

Eleanor Roosevelt was absolutely right when she exclaimed “Poor Niagara!” upon her visit to Iguazú Falls. Having seen both, we can only agree (although the Niagara Falls are a still spectacular view). The Iguazú Falls are a massive complex of water, rock and sheer force of nature.

We visited both the Argentine and the Brazilian national park. We did the Argentine side first, which brings you very close to the falls: On secured metal paths, you can walk right over some of the over 220 falls of various size or stand right by the intense spray of water thundering down a few dozens of meters.

And, we got to add another country to our list of visited countries on this trip—Brazil (although we didn’t get our passports stamped at the border). Yet, we count it as officially “been there” since we spent a whole day and several reais there. The Brazilian side offers the perfect and complete view of the fall’s full size. It was amazing!

Visiting both sides is absolutely worth it! You have to pay an entry fee twice, but you will be rewarded with a one-of-a-kind natural spectacle.

In contrast to the Niagara Falls we’ve visited in 2015, we were also very pleased to see that the nearby cities of Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) and Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) have, despite their obviously heavy turnaround of tourists, remained very humble and low-key (if you disregard the huge Wax Museum and the large Duty Free Store at the border). Iguazú is not an amusement park, which makes it score better than their US-Canadian counterparts.

While in Brazil, we also spent a few hours at the Parque das Aves, a bird park 200 meters next to the entrance to the Iguaçu National Park, which was absolutely stunning. Half of the birds there were rescued from trafficking and mistreatment, which made the fact that the birds are held in cages more acceptable (we are no big zoo lovers). You could even enter the cages and almost cuddle with toucans, parakeets, macaws and other colorful and exotic birds and butterflies.

When in Argentina, do as the Argentines do

Two months into our stay in Argentina, we are proud to report that we made good efforts in integrating ourselves into the local habits. We now got our own mate cups and bombillas that we proudly carry around everywhere we go—just as the Argentine and Uruguayans do. We didn’t go as far as getting our own matera, a bag used to carry mate, thermos, sugar and yerba mate that many people are equipped with. I think you see that Argentines take their mate game very seriously.

We experiences this dedication first-hand when we took our mate cups to our hotel’s breakfast room to prepare some mate with the yerba provided at the buffet table. Simone was approached by an Argentine lady, another guest, who friendly suggested that we use a thermos to refill our mate. She saw us pouring hot water into the cups (a no-go, obviously—water used for mate should not be boiling hot) and had her ask the staff for water at the appropriate temperature filled in a thermos.

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Jan Pöschko, Simone Kaiser

That’s us!